It took Jeff Goldberg in his most recent blog (see item 3) to address one of the most striking phenomenon in considering the essence of AIPAC, aside from its extremely effective pro-Israel lobbying.
There is something quite specific about the AIPAC circus — 13,000 Israel supporters in a convention center — that saddens me, and it is this: the AIPAC gathering is now the largest gathering of Jews, as Jews, in America (outside of certain ultra-Orthodox conclaves), and they have gathered not to advance the cause of Judaism, but to advance the cause of a strong Israel-U.S. relationship. I'm for a strong Israel-U.S. relationship (I'm not for it precisely in the same way AIPAC is, which is to say, free of any criticism of any Israeli action), but this was a gathering about mere politics. Imagine 13,000 Jews gathering to discuss, in plenaries and panels and discussion groups, oh, the Torah and its meaning. That would be a good thing, and a lasting thing, too.
His comments are spot on but there is another even more severe criticism of American Jews which he implies. Jewish organizations, not the synagogue or religious practice, have become the religion of American Jews. Synagogue affiliated Jews participate actively in Jewish communal affairs; but for a growing number of Jews—many only perhaps nominally affiliated with synagogues—it is indeed AIPAC , AJC, ADL, JCPA that represent their religion. Jewish practice—in whatever denomination—is not important. The continued growth of intermarriage, alienation, lack of Jewish education, detachment from Israel (this does not refer to support for a particular Government or policy) are the best evidence of this fact. Donating funds, time, and energy to Jewish organizations has become for many their identification with their Jewishness.
In search of a new money source and funding base, about fifteen years ago, AIPAC decided to seek out synagogue attendees to increase and expand their base. They have especially succeeded brilliantly in bringing in especially large numbers of Orthodox Jews. Many years ago there were hardly a handful of kipot at policy conferences. Now they are in abundance, all the food offered in the entire Convention Center is kosher, and the schedule of religious service which used to be spread by word of mouth is now published in the program. This very decision by AIPAC has expanded its participant numbers most successfully, especially among politically right wing Orthodox followers; and also permitted AIPAC to raise significant monies in this community as well.
Short term for Israel this is probably good and helpful. For the Jewish people in the long-run it begs the question of why so many Jews have opted out of Jewish affiliation, synagogue worship, and attendance. Among the more than 1500 students and young people—who represent the future of the American Jewish community– in attendance, they too understood the attractiveness of this alternative religion.